If you’ve ever been to a Churchwide Assembly, you’ll know what I mean when I say this was a very different Churchwide Assembly than any of the others.
As Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA said in our closing plenary Friday morning, this may have been the 12th Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, but it is the first where we have come together so clear about who we are and what we are about.
We were no longer divided into camps arguing about who was right and who was wrong.
United in mission
Instead, it was clear who we are: We are united in mission — ready to move forward and do the dirty work that Jesus has called us to. We are a church that embraces the grey. We believe in “both/and” — we are saint and sinner. And we are no better than any other.
Like previous assemblies, there was no shortage of hot topics this year. Our days and nights were full of dialogue concerning malaria, genetics, suicide prevention, bullying, immigration reform, reviewing the process for social statements, and conversation about how we, as a church, can live into the future together in a world that is quickly and forever changing.
As the days went on, there were many intense conversations and challenging debates, but time and time again I was amazed at how willing we were to truly listen to one another and work together to build the kingdom of God.
A historic assembly
This was a historic assembly in many ways. Of the 1,025 voting members, 12.7 percent of them were 30 years old or under.
That’s the highest percentage of youth and young-adult voting members in the history of our church! And maybe even more significant than the percentage was the fact that we didn’t sit back and watch the assembly happen.
For every issue that came to the floor, youth and young adults took their place at microphones to make their voices be heard.
As a young adult, it was so wonderful to hear all the different viewpoints from other young people.
All too often we hear the myth that “young adults think this” or “those young people — they are all the same.” The variety of viewpoints expressed by youth and young adults at this year’s assembly began to dispel that myth.
We do not speak as one person but rather as very different people with our own stories to tell.
Our work together was long and hard. And perhaps what impressed me the most was not only our willingness to work with each other, but our willingness to work with people from other denominations and other faiths.
In a world that is full of labels and competitions, it was refreshing to see our many ecumenical partners as they crossed the stage.
I had no idea we had intentional relationships with so many different denominations. As we heard greetings from several of them, I was proud that I am part of a church that is crossing lines and stamping out boundaries.
For the first time in the history of the ELCA, we were greeted by a member of another faith. As Sayyid Sayeed, who leads the Islamic Society of North America, took the stage, I was covered with chills.
I knew something big was happening. I was in the midst of history being made. With each word that he spoke, I was impressed by his humility and authenticity.
He exuded a true joy that we, as members of the ELCA, were willing to walk alongside members of the Islamic faith, recognizing that there is more that unites us than divides us.
Proud to be a part
Above all else, the 2011 Churchwide Assembly made me proud to be a member of the ELCA.
Proud to be part of a church that is working to raise $15 million to help stamp out malaria by the end of 2015.
Proud to be part of a church that has embraced the connection between faith and science.
Proud to be part of a church that recognizes the world is quickly changing and our organization must change to remain relevant.
Proud to be part of a church that sees the invisible, reaching out in a variety of ways to tell all people that there is a place for them here.
Proud to be part of a church that is encouraging congregations everywhere to reach out to their communities and become true places of mission.
And perhaps most of all, proud to be part of a church that embraces the powerful connection between “both” and “and.”
Crystal Rowe is a lifelong Lutheran and was a voting member at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA. She attended Valparaiso University and the University of Akron School of Law.